Americans' time spent with email is shifting, but this change doesn't signal the death of email, despite ongoing predictions. However, these shifts mean email marketers must recognize they need to ramp up their email programs to stay relevant and necessary to their subscribers.
First, Nielsen reported on Monday that Americans spent more time on social networking and online games than on personal email in 2010.
As a percentage of all time spent online via personal computers, email fell from 11.5 percent in 2009 to 8.3 percent in 2010. Social networking occupies 22.7 percent of online time today, up from 15.8 percent in 2009, while online games also moved up, from 9.3 percent in 2009 to 10.2 percent in 2010.
However, according to Nielsen email remains the No. 1 activity on mobile devices. Social networking is making inroads there, too, but email actually increased its dominance over other activities to 41.6 percent in 2010 from 37.4 percent of online time in 2009.
So while the headlines have suggested that time spent on email has declined, in fact as consumers increasingly access digital content on mobile devices - from smartphones to iPads - email is becoming the key activity on these take everywhere devices.
Although I have some questions about these results (posed to Nielsen, but no response as of this post) – for example, whether "personal email" includes only at-home, non-work messages between individuals or if it included reading commercial email as well or time spent on work email – they do have several important implications for email marketers.
Relevance Keeps Recipients in the Inbox
Although Americans are spending less time on email at the computer (desktop or laptop), this doesn't signal a waning interest in the channel.
Instead, Americans likely are becoming more efficient in sorting out the messages they want to receive and ignoring or deleting any that don't interest them.
The simultaneous growth in mobile also suggests that more Americans are triaging their inboxes on their mobile phones: accessing inboxes multiple times a day and deleting unwanted messages, then reading the messages they really want later on the computer.
This change should alert email marketers to ramp up message relevance, to rely more on messages triggered by customer behavior and targeted to preferences and less on one-size-fits-all broadcast campaigns in order to remain visible and wanted in the inbox.
Rendering is More Important than Ever
Have you tested your email messages to be sure they render correctly and deliver the message you intend on all platforms?
This must become a critical part of your email program. If subscribers can't read your messages easily on their phones, your emails will likely get deleted more often.
More details about Americans' shifting online habits are here in Nielsen's blog post.